Dale McKinnon, in an article in Small Boats Monthly, Rowing Rough Water , identified three keys for rowing in rough water:
1. Shorten your stroke by a quarter to a half.
Birgit Skarstein, of the Lidchhardt Rowing Club agrees:
“When the water is very rough, you need shorter, more frequent strokes and steady, smooth power.”In another article Rough Water Technique, the author states:
“In extremely rough water, stop your hands about 3 or 4 inches away from your ribcage at the finish of the stroke. This will allow more room to drop your hands [lifting the blades higher to avoid hitting waves] and release the blades from the water.”2. Relax.
“Concentrate on softening your grip… you will calm the rest of your body. Stay balanced and relaxed, and let the boat do its wild hokey-pokey beneath you…”Shirwin Smith, Founder of Open Water Rowing Center in Sausalito, California, states:
“Don’t fight the water. The biggest problem for scullers on rough water is their tendency to stiffen their upper body, arms and hands. “3. Zigzag to deal with a ‘beam’ sea.
Dale recommends, rather than rowing parallel to the waves (with first one oar and then the other oar digging in and water possibly pouring over the gunnel), we angle (30 to 45 degrees) into the wind. The boat will not roll so much and it will be easier to keep both oars in the water. Turning into the wind will also offset the distance the boat is being blown down wind.
My personal ‘learnings’ from rowing in rough water:
- Stop the ‘death grip’ on handles
- Stop trying to power through wind and waves… Use steady pressure with shorter, more frequent, strokes
- Stop smashing into the waves with the oars… Make the stroke recovery higher and feather the oars so they either skim over waves or ‘cut’ through them
- Think “Relax, firm and steady… I can do this.” Repeat.
An excerpt from Dale’s article:
“Halfway across the entrance to McKay Reach [in the 3rd week of an 800 mile row from Ketchikan, Alaska, to Bellingham, Washington in a 20’ Sam Devlin designed dory] I encountered swirling gale-force winds and waves coming at me from all directions. As my fear increased, my grip on the oars grew tighter. I was tiring quickly and my hands, forearms, and back ached. I knew that if I didn’t regain my composure and relax, fatigue would add exponentially to the danger I was in. To reach the safety of even the nearest lee I would have to conserve energy. I kept pulling and calmed myself. I loosened my grip and soon felt my body begin to relax. As my spine became less stiff, my hips could adjust to the wild gyrations of the hull. My head no longer swayed with every wave, and my growing dizziness subsided. My blades stopped getting slapped skyward off the tops of waves, and my tendency to “catch a crab” disappeared. I could feel the water on each blade and adjust more quickly to the waves’ erratic shapes.”Tell us about your experience rowing in rough waters.
The next blog will focus on various outrigger designs.